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PhD positions in Philosophy and Digital Humanities (2.0 FTE)

Sub-project 1: Networks of Authors in Early Modern Natural Philosophy

The process of normalisation is socially embedded. It is thus crucial to answer questions such as: who were the historical actors who engaged in the process of normalisation of natural philosophy? Who were t

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Broerstraat, Groningen, Groningen
Tijdelijk contract / Tijdelijke opdracht
Uren per week:
38 - 38 uur
€ 2972 - € 2972 per maand


Sub-project 1: Networks of Authors in Early Modern Natural Philosophy

The process of normalisation is socially embedded. It is thus crucial to answer questions such as: who were the historical actors who engaged in the process of normalisation of natural philosophy? Who were the canonical authorities and sources that they used to support rival views? How did these canons change over time? How was the university milieu influenced by debates going on outside it? How did other competing social infrastructures (e.g. scientific societies and private circles) engage with the process of reform of early modern natural philosophy? How did the gender and social status of historical actors (e.g. immigrants vs. upper-classes) influence the acceptance of new approaches? When, how, and to what extent, has an authority such as Aristotle (for instance) been replaced as one of the main sources and references in the discussion of natural philosophy?
To answer these questions, this first sub-project will study the networks of authors and sources that contributed to the early modern debate on natural philosophy. By combining data about the social profile of different authors (e.g. academic affiliations, personal relationships, gender and social status), and bibliometric parameters (e.g. direct references and co-citations of sources), the sub-project will uncover (a) how the reshaping of the canon of authors and sources determined the structure of social interactions, and (b) how the social infrastructure determined the circulation of knowledge and the reshaping of the canon of authors and sources.

Sub-project 2: Networks of Concepts in Early Modern Natural Philosophy

Conceptual changes in natural philosophy are mirrored by changes in terminology and uses of specific technical notions. It is thus essential to study how historical authors wrote about natural philosophy and reshaped existing notions or introduced new ones. Crucial questions at this juncture are, for instance: how did the conceptual framework of natural philosophy evolve? How was the use of new notions and conceptual vocabulary established and reshaped across time? How did the increasing use of vernacular modern languages (instead of Latin) affect the reshaping of concepts? How did the use of specific technical terminology become dominant over time? What was (for instance) the fate of the notion of ‘substantial form’ (a pillar of Aristotelian natural philosophy) during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? How did the new notion of ‘force’ (the new pillar of Newtonian physics) become accepted? And why was the Newtonian conception of force more successful than other rival views? What role did religious or theological notions (references to God or God’s attributes, for instance) play in shaping the conceptual vocabulary of natural philosophy across the period? And how did this disciplinary interplay change over time?

This second sub-project will address these questions by implementing a digital toolkit for semantic analysis in order to uncover the elements of continuity and discontinuity across different conceptual frameworks and reconstruct the evolution of the conceptual meaning of key notions of natural philosophy (e.g. ‘nature’, ‘cause’, ‘body’, ‘motion’, ‘force’, and ‘law of nature’). This study will reveal (a) how established notions undergo significant transformations in their usage and meaning; (b) how new technical terminology was introduced and disseminated over the period; and (c) the interplay between natural philosophy and other conceptual contexts (religious, moral or political).


• strong background in one or more of the following fields: digital humanities, history of philosophy, history of science, intellectual history
• experience in network analysis is particularly appreciated
• excellent command of English, both in writing and in speaking; all communications within the ERC research team will be held in English
• intellectual drive, enthusiasm and open-mindedness, methodological sensitivity, demonstrable ability to work in a research team.

Not necessary, but (highly) appreciated:
• a working (reading) knowledge of one or more of the following languages: Latin, Dutch, French
• some demonstrable familiarity with coding and programming.


The position is temporary for a period of 4 years, under the condition of a positive assessment at the end of the first year. The University of Groningen offers a salary starting from € 2,325 in the first year up to € 2,972 gross a month in the last year for a full-time position.

Starting date: 1 May 2019

We strongly encourage candidates from any underrepresented or minority background to apply.

Candidates can apply for this position until 24 February 11.59 pm / 25 February 2019 CET by means of the application form (click on "Apply" below on the advertisement on the university website).

The application should include the following:

1. A cover letter (of no more than 1500 words) providing concrete and demonstrable evidence that the candidate fulfils the requirements for the position and outlining the candidate’s motivation for joining the project.

Please note that candidates should specify in the cover letter in which one of the two sub-projects (see description above) they would prefer to work. Candidates are expected to explain (in a concrete, factual and clear way) why they think that their profile makes them particularly suitable for the respective sub-project.

2. CV and list of publications (if any).

3. The names and contact details of three referees and an indication whether we can contact them at this stage.

4. A sample of written work (no more than 8,000 words) that is relevant to this position; it may be a published or unpublished sample and may be an extract from a longer piece.

Skype interviews will take place around mid-March 2019. A final decision will be reached soon thereafter.

Unsolicited marketing is not appreciated.

Additional information

Dr A. Sangiacomo, Chair of the search committee

The Normalisation of Natural Philosophy